Stop Excusing Black Men’s Violence — Like Nate Parker’s — for the Sake of Black Liberation
Nate Parker’s recent comments about the rape charges brought against him in 1999 are absolutely vile. To give a backstory, Parker and his college roommate and co-writer of The Birth of a Nation, Jean Celestin, were charged with raping a 20-year-old student in their apartment. Parker was cleared of all charges, but Celestin was found guilty and sentenced to six months in prison. The verdict was appealed in 2005 because the victim did not want to re-testify.
In Parker’s interview with Variety, he says, “Seventeen years ago, I experienced a very painful moment in my life. It resulted in it being litigated. I was cleared of it. That’s that. Seventeen years later, I’m a filmmaker. I have a family. I have five beautiful daughters. I have a lovely wife. I get it. The reality is … I can’t relive 17 years ago. All I can do is be the best man I can be now.”
His statement only leaves us with absolute disgust and more questions. There is no denial of the rape or denial of being a rapist. There is no acknowledgement of the pain, suffering and traumatizing of the victim. There is no apology whatsoever. There is no centering of victims of sexual assault and rape, but rather the eliciting of remorse by centering himself and the pain he went through. His mentioning of his family, his wife, his kids all sound like veils of rape culture and misogyny to prove he’s “better” now, without naming what he actually did.
But of all the things not mentioned within his statement, there was never any accountability around working with his co-creator of The Birth of a Nation, who was charged and convicted on the same incident of rape. If we are to assume and believe that Nate Parker is not a rapist, and that he was rightfully cleared of the charges, why is there no transparency or elaboration on his work with a convicted sexual predator? Because no one gives a fuck about Black cisgender men’s violence if it means we’re “closer” to Black liberation.
Holding Nate Parker and Jean Celestin accountable would require that we address the violence Black cisgender men are capable of and enact within our communities. The more Black people, especially Black cisgender men, respond with, “We need The Birth of a Nation. This isn’t about Nate Parker,” the more it’s understood and solidified that misogyny and Black patriarchy matter more than any form of pro-Black empowerment the film could provide.
The more and more we acknowledge and discover the violence Black cisgender men perpetuate against everyone else in our Black spaces, we are constantly silenced for the sake of Black revolution. Movement after movement, political triumph after political triumph, Black history moment after Black history moment, art piece after art piece, leader after leader — we see the same patterns of erasing and ignoring the violence perpetuated, created and done by Black cisgender men to harm everyone else within the Black community.
If Black cisgender men are to be forgiven and excused for their violence against our community to preserve our fight for freedom, then what does freedom actually look like? Is freedom swallowing our fear every time we walk past Black cisgender men on the street? Is freedom quieting our rage when Black cisgender men rape and assault everyone else and each other in our community? Is freedom sitting down at dinner tables with our abusers and pretending like family means more than safety? Is freedom ignoring the fact that every time Black women and femmes are murdered by the police, there is no immediate action whatsoever? Does freedom look like Black women and femmes, queer and trans, organizing and being on the frontlines for Black cisgender men who are murdered by the cops just to be told “wait your turn?” Is freedom accepting colorism, fatphobia, transphobia, ableism and misogynistic violence by Black cisgender men while being told to “love Black men?” Is freedom keeping the domestic violence we experience behind closed doors? Is freedom sacrificing our humanity, only to use our rage, our bodies, our agency and our labor in service to Black cisgender men? NIGGA, NAH.
Our revolution does not exist without the deconstruction and decolonization of patriarchal violence and antiblack misogyny. Black cisgender men raping, killing, assaulting, silencing, degrading and harming Black women, femmes and all gender-oppressed Black people will never equate to freedom. Rape culture, the protection for sexual predators, the ignoring/denial of body autonomy, victim blaming, slut shaming and the gaslighting of any survivor is antiblack violence. As our community continues to be silent on the violence of Black cisgender men, it forces the rest of us to choose between getting free or sacrificing our humanity to protect our abusers.
Crystal Hamilton, a Black ciswoman who was murdered by her husband in March of this year, was a victim of domestic violence. In Jennifer Farmer’s poignant essay discussing intimate partner violence against Hamilton and many other Black women, she provides us with the statistics of why Black women are the most vulnerable to this patriarchal violence:
“Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of [domestic violence]/[intimate partner violence] than White women. While Black women make up just 8 percent of the population, 22 percent of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women. As such, domestic and intimate partner violence is one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35. Yet our stories do not always receive the attention they deserve. This is particularly disturbing given, “most homicides against Black women are not committed by strangers, but by males known to the victims,” according to the Violence Policy Center.”
As Farmer’s research reminds us — Black women and femmes being murdered in DV/IPV situations are mostly being murdered by people who know them. Black women, femmes and all gender-oppressed folks within the Black community are not safe anywhere, including Black spaces and within our own homes. Korryn Gaines, a Black ciswoman murdered by the police on August 1, was abandoned by her partner, Kareem Courtney, while she was barricaded by the police in her home with her 5-year-old son. Courtney was wanted for a domestic violence incident that happened between them in June of this year. Gaines put her life on the line for her children and her partner — protecting his violence and his fear with her whole being — just to be ignored by the media and by our community.
Rae’Lynn Thomas, a black trans woman who was murdered by her stepfather (that would refer to her using derogatory and transmisogynistic language) — still did not shift the conversation around who’s killing Black trans women or domestic violence within the Black community. What happened to Thomas is antiblack transphobia domestic violence, and there is no excuse for ignoring how violence permeates our intracommunity more than we shed light on. Venus Selenite’s truth and work, “Islan Nettles’ Murder Reminds Us Why Black Cis Men Are Black Trans Women’s Biggest Threat,” reminds us that Black trans women must be protected from the ways in which antiblack transphobia manifest — and that especially includes Black cisgender men.
The physical, psychological and sexual violence within our communities include masculine-of-center, non-femme identified folks as well. Ky Peterson, a Black trans man who was assaulted and raped by a Black cisgender man is currently serving time in a women’s prison for involuntary manslaughter for fighting against his attacker. As he lives with the traumatization of being sexually assaulted and punished for protecting himself, he’s dehumanized and misgendered every day he is in prison. In addition, Black cisgender men also harm other Black cisgender men. Earlier this year, a Black gay couple, Anthony Gooden, 23, and Marquez Tolbert, 21, were attacked by Martin Blackwell — a friend of Gooden’s mother. Blackwell threw a pot of boiling water on the couple as they slept.
The violence of Black cisgender men permeates deeper than we assume, and it’s time we acknowledge it. This is about Nate Parker. This is about Jean Celestin. This is about every Black cisgender man that has harmed and continues to harm everyone else in our community.
Audre Lorde said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She was definitely right in the context of white supremacist violence, but it’s imperative that we also apply this framework within our intracommunity violence. The tools of antiblack misogyny and black patriarchal power will never dismantle antiblackness; they will only uphold the violence each one of us suffers — including that of Black cisgender men.
The silencing and protecting of Black cisgender men’s violence will not save us. We have to hold Black cisgender men accountable, no matter how uncomfortable and difficult it may seem. We cannot hyperfocus on the feds listening, white and non-Black voyeurs and organizing infiltrators more than we need to focus on the healing, organizing, accountability and harm reduction that starts with naming our truth within our community. They kill us for existing, so we have everything to gain in acknowledging their violence. We have nothing to lose but our chains.
Ashleigh Shackelford is a queer, nonbinary Black fat femme writer, artist and cultural producer. Ashleigh is a contributing writer at Wear Your Voice Magazine and For Harriet. Read more at Facebook.com/AshleighShackelford. Support my emotional and intellectual labor by donating to: PayPal.me/AshleightheLion.